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From Users to Advocates: Building Customer Community with Dave Derington & Amy Elenius

One of the most overlooked solutions for driving business growth isn’t what you might think.

No, it’s not SQLs or sales pitches; it’s your customer community. 

Building a customer community is imperative for businesses looking to engage their user base, foster peer-to-peer learning, and ultimately enhance their products or services. 

But with so many competing priorities, how can you start a community, build and expand it, and prove the ROI to your stakeholders? 

At WorkRamp LEARN Virtual Summit, Dave Derington, Director of Customer Education, ServiceRocket, and Amy Elenius, Manager of Customer Education, Gorgias, take a deep dive into the value of building a customer community and offer insightful best practices on how to create and grow a community that your customers will love. 

The value of a customer community

Amy and Dave emphasize the immense importance of peer-to-peer learning within a customer community. Businesses can provide valuable guidance on product usage, but customers can learn even more from insights from their peers. Customer communities serve as a space where these insights can be readily shared. 

“There’s only so much we can do as a business,” Amy says. “We can show you how to use the product and the tools in the kitchen, for example. But what merchants want to see is what other merchants are making. What does everyone else’s menu look like? So we find that is super valuable because all we need to do is facilitate that space, and then the merchants teach each other.”

One of the significant benefits of a customer community is direct access to user-generated ideas and feedback. Customers may suggest novel use cases, innovative workflows, or features businesses hadn’t considered. 

“They’re using the product more than we are,” Dave says. “Our customers are like our family, and we’re learning. They’re teaching us, and we also get that voice from the customers themselves. They’re talking about these cool use cases and workflows.”

This input is invaluable for product development, helping companies create more tailored offerings to their customers’ needs and desires.

Read more: What is a Customer Community Platform and Why You Need One

How to build and grow your customer community

Amy’s best advice for anyone launching a community is to keep it simple and learn from organizations already doing it well. 

“When I built the community, I didn’t know what I was doing,” she says. “I looked at many other communities and picked out the bits that I thought worked well. I put a lot of time into keeping it simple and not overcomplicating things with 35 different channels, different ways to post, and different timelines or schedules. Keep it simple; make it easy for people to find where they should start and where they should come back.”

Amy started her first community with essential channels like “Ask a question,” then, over time, she added inspirational channels and other resources that customers wanted.

Dave agrees it’s imperative to keep things simple initially but also emphasizes the need to invest dedicated time and staff to the community, the distinction between a community and support, and why you need both.

“If you’re going to double down on that investment to respond, that response time is huge,” he says. “It’s also a sticky subject because if you make your community too much like your support portal, customers may say, ‘Well, what am I paying support for?’ You need both, and if you respond within a day or two, that’s good. But if somebody needs an answer, you should always say, ‘Hey, go to the support portal. That’s a break-fix; that’s an issue. We’re on top of that.'”

Read more: LMS Customer Community: The Catalyst for Collaborative Education

Learning from early mistakes

Both Amy and Dave reflect on their early experiences with customer communities. They share what they learned from past mistakes that can help Customer Success leaders build successful communities.

“Not tracking data from day one,” Amy says. “I tracked a lot, but I should have tracked more. And then investing in automation early on. We’re all about automation at Gorgias. We don’t believe that machines replace people, but the value they can give back is huge. When I started, I didn’t automate a lot; over time, I’ve automated more so that I have more time to respond to people.”

Dave stresses the importance of defining roles, setting goals, and establishing swim lanes.

“It’s not a pool where everybody can plan,” he says. “You need lifeguards and swim lanes. But the number one question you must ask is, ‘How does this support our bottom line business-wise?’ Beyond the KPIs, is there a value in doing community? If the answer is no, don’t do it. It has to be the right time and place, and you need the love of your customers to support it.”

Increasing customer engagement with communities 

Amy and Dave’s insights underscore the importance of simplicity, dedication, and learning from past mistakes in building and growing a customer community. Creating a thriving community fosters a space where your customers feel heard, valued, and engaged.

As Dave aptly puts it, a successful customer community should be the “natural place that falls in the middle and brings everything together.” With the right approach and support, a customer community can become a driving force in your business’s success.

Watch the full session on demand for more CS insights from Amy and Dave.

Build your customer community and centralize customer and partner learning on a single platform with WorkRamp Communities. Learn more and join the waitlist to be notified when WorkRamp Communities is available in early 2024. 

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